Abstract Rats were fed a high-fat, liquid diet containing either 36% of total calories as ethanol or an isocaloric amount of sucrose, for a period up to 35 days. At different time intervals we measured the effects of ethanol administration on the activities of a number of key enzymes involved in hepatic lipid synthesis. At the start of the experimental period the activities of acetyl-CoA carboxylase and fatty acid synthase, measured in liver homogenates, increased in the control as well as in the ethanol-fed group. After 35 days these enzyme activities were still elevated but there were no significant differences between the two groups. In hepatocytes isolated from controls as well as from ethanol-fed rats, short-term incubations with ethanol induced an increase in the rate of fatty acid synthesis and in the activities of acetyl-CoA carboxylase and fatty acid synthase. However, no alterations in the regulation of these enzymes by short-term modulators of lipogenesis were apparent in hepatocytes isolated from alcohol-treated animals. The results do not indicate a major role for the enzymes of de novo fatty acid synthesis in the development of the alcoholic fatty liver. The amount of liver triacylglycerols increased in ethanol-fed rats during the entire treatment period, whereas the hepatic levels of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine were not affected by ethanol ingestion. Ethanol administration for less than 2 weeks increased the activities of phosphatidate phosphohydrolase, diacylglycerol acyltransferase, and microsomal phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase, whereas the cytosolic activity of phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase was slightly decreased. Upon prolonged ethanol administration the activities of these enzymes were slowly restored to control values after 35 days, suggesting development of some kind of adaptation. It is interesting that, although the activities of phosphatidate phosphohydrolase and diacylglycerol acyltransferase were restored to the levels found in the control rats, this effect was not accompanied by a stabilization or decrease of the concentration of hepatic triacylglycerols.